Tuesday, December 8, 2015
Awakened Sinners II
In "The Warnings of Scripture are in the Best Manner Adapted to the Awakening and Conversion of Sinners" by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) we have some statements of Edwards regarding those called "awakened sinners." (see here)
Wrote Edwards (emphasis mine):
"The warnings of God’s Word are more fitted to obtain the ends of awakening sinners, and bringing them to repentance, than the rising of one from the dead to warn them."
What is important about these words is the fact that Edwards does not exclude God's use of the word in the awakening of sinners, in that work of preparing hearts for reception of the Gospel. To fail to see this has led Hardshells to think that means may be used by God after awakening but not in awakening itself. Preaching is God's means of getting the attention of sinners, of stirring their minds and consciences.
"But God, who knows our nature and circumstances, knows what is most adapted to them. He who made the faculties of our souls, knows what will have the greatest tendency to move them, and to work upon them. He who is striving with us, to bring us to repentance and salvation, uses the fittest and best means. In contriving and appointing the means of our salvation, he chooses better for us than we should for ourselves...God is infinitely wise, and knows better how to speak to us so as to persuade us, than one risen from the dead. He perfectly knows our nature and state, and knows how to adapt his instructions and warnings to our frame and circumstances in the world. And without doubt that method which God has chosen, is agreeable to his infinite wisdom, and most adapted to our nature."
But, our Hardshell brethren do not believe that God uses his word to "awaken" the hearts, minds, and consciences of sinners. To them God must first awaken the sinner, apart from the word of God, before the sinner has either the ability or warrant to believe, repent, and convert to Christ. I dare say that this is probably why very few who attend Hardshell churches experience any "awakenings." They certainly are taught not to expect any such effects of their preaching, having no faith in its use or effectiveness in the Spirit's hand to produce it.
"The Scripture is full of instances, sufficient to convince us, that if the Word of God will not awaken and convert sinners, nothing will."
If the Scriptures are so replete with evidence to show that God uses his word to awaken sinners, then how can the Hardshells miss it? And, how can they be so arrogant about their supposed special and unique knowledge on this subject? Oh yes, our Hardshell brethren are wiser than President Edwards in the interpretation of the Scriptures! Wiser than Spurgeon also, as we shall see.
Spurgeon in his famous sermon "THE WARRANT OF FAITH" (see here) said:
"The warrant for a sinner to believe in Christ is not in himself in any sense or in any manner, but in the fact that he is commanded then and there to believe on Jesus Christ! Some preachers in the Puritan times, whose shoe laces I am not worthy to unloose, erred much in this matter. I refer not merely to Alleine and Baxter, who are far better preachers of the law than of the gospel, but I include men far sounder in the faith than they, such as Rogers of Dedham, Shepherd, the author of The Sound Believer, and especially the American, Thomas Hooker, who has written a book upon qualifications for coming to Christ. These excellent men had a fear of preaching the gospel to any except those whom they styled, “sensible sinners,” and consequently, kept hundreds of their hearers sitting in darkness when they might have rejoiced in the light of God! They preached repentance and hatred of sin as the warrant of a sinner’s trusting to Christ. According to them, a sinner might reason thus—“I possess such-and-such a degree of sensibility on account of sin, therefore, I have a right to trust in Christ.” Now, I venture to affirm that such reasoning is seasoned with fatal error! Whoever preaches in this fashion may preach much of the gospel, but the whole gospel of the free grace of God in its fullness, he has yet to learn! In our own day, certain preachers assure us that a man must be regenerated before we may bid him believe in Jesus Christ; some degree of a work of grace in the heart being, in their judgment, the only warrant to believe. This also is false! It takes away a gospel for sinners, and offers us a gospel for saints! It is anything but a ministry of free grace!"
Yes, in the mid to late nineteenth century, when Spurgeon uttered these words, there were Hardshells, people who "assure us that a man must be regenerated before we may bid him believe in Jesus Christ." And, what does he say of this aberrant novel view among Baptists? He says "it takes away a gospel for sinners."
"I lay down, this morning, with great boldness—because I know and am well persuaded that what I speak is the mind of the Spirit—this doctrine that the sole and only warrant for a sinner to believe in Jesus is found in the gospel itself, and in the command which accompanies that gospel, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” I shall deal with that matter first negatively, and then positively."
Hardshells today do not believe that the warrant to believe is to be found in the Gospel itself, or in the word of God, and that all men are responsible with what they do with the Gospel
"My opponents will say, “The sinner must have an awakened conscience before he is warranted to believe on Christ.” Well, then, if I trust Christ to save me because I have an awakened conscience, I say again, the most important part of the whole transaction is the alarm of my conscience, and my real trust hangs there. If I lean on Christ because I feel this and that, then I am leaning on my feelings and not on Christ alone—and this is legal, indeed! No, even if desires after Christ are to be my warrant for believing—if I am to believe in Jesus not because He bids me, but because I feel some desires after Him—you will again, with half an eye, perceive that the most important source of my comfort must be my own desires. So that we shall be always looking within, “Do I really desire? If I do, then Christ can save me. If I do not, then He cannot.” And so my desire overrides Christ and His divine grace! Away with such legality from the earth!"
I have studied Hardshell experiences for forty five years and one of the things that Hardshells look to as the chief evidence that they are born again, or of the elect, is the fact that they have convictions of conscience. That is why they sing "Tis a point I long to know, am I his or am I not?" As Spurgeon said, these are "always looking within."
"Again, any other way of preaching than that of bidding the sinner believe because God commands him to believe, is a boasting way of faith. For if my warrant to trust in Jesus is found in my experience, my loathing of sin, or my longings after Christ, then, all these good things of mine are a legitimate ground of boasting, because though Christ may save me, yet, these were the wedding dress which fitted me to come to Christ."
The Hardshells and Hyper Calvinists guilty of "a boasting way of faith"! How does a Hardshell come to know that he is elect and called? Why, by his feelings of "loathing of sin"!
"It is false, my brothers and sisters, it is as false as God is true, that anything in a sinner can be his warrant for believing in Jesus! The whole tenor and run of the gospel is absolutely contrary to it. It must be false, because there is nothing in a sinner until he believes which can be a warrant for his believing. If you tell me that a sinner has any good thing in him before he believes, I reply, impossible—“Without faith it is impossible to please God.” All the repenting, and humbling, and convictions that a sinner has before faith, must be, according to Scripture, displeasing to God! Do not tell me that his heart is broken, if it is only broken by carnal means, and trusts in its brokenness—it needs to be broken over again! Do not tell me he has been led to hate his sin; I tell you he does not hate his sin, he only hates hell! There cannot be a true and real hatred of sin where there is not faith in Jesus. All the sinner knows and feels, before faith, is only an addition to his other sins, and how can sin which deserves wrath be a warrant for an act which is the work of the Holy Spirit?"
I think these words are a powerful antidote to the Hardshell heresy. Spurgeon points out one of the great errors of those who put faith anywhere but in the first place in Christian experience. If faith is needed to please God, then whatever a man does before faith is displeasing to God. But, such an admission is deadly to the born again before faith error of the Hardshells.
Compare "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb. 11: 6) with "whatever is not of faith is sin" (Rom. 14: 23). Do these verses not affirm that whatever a man does before faith in Christ is not acceptable or pleasing to God? Further, the implied converse teaching of Rom. 14: 23 is - "all is by faith." But, this is what is denied by the Hardshells. Is salvation "of faith"? Is purification of heart by faith?
"How dangerous is the sentiment I am opposing. My hearers, it may be as mischievous as to have misled some of you. I solemnly warn you, though you have been professors of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for 20 years, if your reason for believing in Christ lies in this, that you have felt the terrors of the law, that you have been alarmed and have been convicted—if your own experience is your warrant for believing in Christ—it is a false reason, and you are really relying upon your experience and not upon Christ!"
Here Spurgeon attacks the Hardshell view of the awakened sinner, and rather than giving him Hardshell counsel (telling him he is okay, already saved), he is told that he is still lost, and he is ordered to receive Christ and to look to him for salvation. Hardshell counsel to convicted sinners is indeed "dangerous" as Spurgeon said. I dealt with this at length in my series on "Conviction of Sin" in my book "The Hardshell Baptist Cult." Spurgeon warned these Hyper Calvinists to "Take care of resting in your own experience." Good advice.
"I believe that the tendency of that preaching which puts the warrant for faith anywhere but in the gospel command, is to vex the true penitent, and to console the hypocrite..."
Is that not what Hardshell preaching does? Rather than bringing salvation's joy to the penitent, it rather vexes him. And, it gives hope and consolation to the hypocrites. That is indeed dangerous.